When It Comes to Skincare, "All-Natural" Isn't Necessarily Better

My foray into sustainable beauty was less a dipped toe and more of a cannonball into the crunchy-granola deep end. I was 21, broke, and newly immersed in literature about our food system's tremendous impact on the environment and decided that by extension, DIY'ing my beauty routine would support both of these causes. That ultimately meant giving up shampoo for nearly two years.

Five years later, my fervor for the planet remains, and somehow, my vanity looks incredibly different. While this is, in part, a testament to an ever-expanding market of innovative, plant-based beauty products, it also reflects my deeper understanding of what sustainability actually looks like in this industry. While I know firsthand how easy it is to assume that a largely natural ingredient label adds up to a superior product, the most innovative brands on the market right now operate under a different doctrine: that while plant-based ingredients are to be revered, harvesting them en masse can be hugely detrimental to the planet. That's not to mention that when they aren't used with care, many botanicals aren't even all that great for your skin.

"I think that most consumers assume that because something is natural or nature-derived that means it is both safe and/or sustainable," says Chase Polan, the founder of sustainably minded skincare label Kypris. "Both assumptions are incorrect. For example, essential oils from plants, when misused, can cause horrible burns or reactions. Another concern is that these natural ingredients can require tremendous amounts of plant material in order to create the ingredients. When something is grown, arable land, water, and a workforce must be dedicated to their care and procurement. This can have a myriad of implications for the resources, environment, and geopolitics of a region."

Kypris is one of a handful of innovative skincare brands sitting at this intersection of efficacy and environmentalism—something that Polan and her peers hope to establish as a new gold standard in a very noisy beauty market. I'd certainly argue that we're headed in that direction, if the mess of new-to-me products currently obscuring my desk is any indication. I wonder, however, if the chief obstacle facing these pioneers is convenience fueled by misinformation. "Natural" is a term that is unregulated by the FDA, for example, but believing a brand that touts itself as such is certainly easier than researching every ingredient listed on the label—let alone the ethics and geopolitical impact of the brand's manufacturing processes.